Chapter 15 - Redheads
I knew they weren't after me, but I didn't want them to see me, anyway. A fat white guy wearing a big wide belt got out of the cop car and yelled, "You kids go home, storm coming."
I crossed the street as far from the cop car as I could without looking like I was actually avoiding it.
"Jaime Gongora," the cop called out. "Jaime, tell them in Spanish, too. If I say it, they'll laugh."
I looked back and Jimmy waved at the cop. He began shouting what the cop had said in Spanish and English. Andrew looked mad and all and frowned. I turned back and scooted on to the motel, just as a real gust of wind came up and almost knocked me down. I thought there might actually have been a drop of water in that gust, though the storm still looked miles away.
I dug the key out of my pocket and let myself into our room, trying to be quiet because Mom might be asleep. Instead, she had the tv on and was watching some movie. It took me a moment to recognize it as A League of Their Own, about women professional baseball players back in the 1940s.
There used to be a league just for women players; when I saw the movie, I went and got a book about it out of the library to see if it was true. It lasted all through World War II and for almost ten years afterward but died out when television killed off most of the minor leagues, way back before even my parents were born. I felt kind of bad about that, it would have been kind of nice if there were a Big League for girls.
"Game over?" Mom asked.
I nodded. "It's going to rain and the wind is blowing hard. And we lost the ball, in the sump-thing."
"Uh, it's like a manhole but it sticks up above the ground about eight feet."
Mom blinked a couple of times at my description. "What did you call it?"
"It's really a sump, but I just called it the sump-thing -- because -- because it's funnier."
Mom laughed. "A sump? In a playground?"
"No one can fall in, it's like eight feet high and the opening is up there and it's supposed to have a lid but the lid is broke and the ball went inside and we only had the one ball. Jimmy said it would be too dangerous to try to get it back and then the police came and said we had to quit because of the storm, anyway." I talked quickly 'cause I had to go to the bathroom.
"Storm? Cops?" Mom said.
I heard her go outside to look while I was in the bathroom. I sat on the toilet to make water and used a piece of toilet paper to wipe myself dry instead of just shaking.
Mom came back from outside, "It's really looking stormy outside. I don't think we're going to go to the mall."
I guess I came out of the bathroom looking a bit disappointed. She grinned at me. "We can color each other's hair instead, okay?"
I nodded. "Should I take my bath now, then?" I asked.
"Yes, but don't wash your hair. Dirty hair takes color better, weird as that sounds."
It did sound weird. Mom wouldn't kid me about something like that, though, so it must be true. I nodded.
Mom's face went into the contortions that meant I had done something funny without knowing it and she was trying hard not to laugh.
"Ho, ho, hee, hee," I said.
And that really cracked her up, she laughed so hard she made hooting noises. "You look so serious!" she managed to gasp before collapsing on the bed with another coughing fit.
"Are you going to be okay?" I asked.
She nodded. "I'm feeling much better, now," she said which for some reason made her laugh again. And cough some more. "Go take your bath," she said. "Then I'll take one, then we can do our hair and when it's done we'll see if it's still stormy out or what?"
"Okay," I said. I took a pair of the girl's underwear we'd bought out of the package. Each pair was a different color to match the princess printed on the leg. Cinderella was blue; Aurora, Sleeping Beauty, was pink; Belle, yellow; Ariel, the Little Mermaid, aqua; Pocohontas, lavender; Snow White was white; and Jasmine, from Aladdin, green. I picked Ariel, since she had red hair and so would I. I almost picked Pocohontas because she was the only one I could imagine playing baseball; well, maybe Jasmine or Belle.
I saw Mom watching me choose and I know I turned red but neither of us said anything about it.
"Here," said Mom, handing me one of her t-shirts. "Wear this when you come out, in case we get dye on it."
It was one of her older t-shirts, faded black with that kind of lettering on it that begins to come apart after a washing or two. "This is going to fit me like a dress," I complained, holding it up. The broken letters read, "GRRLZ 4EVAH!"
"You can wear it as a nightie," she suggested. "We forgot to get you one."
I didn't look at her as I went into the bathroom, afraid I might blush again.
I put the princess panties and t-shirt where they wouldn't get wet then I got undressed, wondering a little bit if I'd be wearing girls' clothes for a long time. Months, probably. However long it took Mom to figure a way to get Dad away from his crooked uncles so we could go home. I piled my boy clothes up in the corner. The only thing I'd been wearing that a girl wouldn't wear, ever, was my boy undershorts.
A long mirror on the back of the door gave me a look at myself. I hid the evidence of my boy identity by crossing my legs. I looked pretty convincing as a girl, I thought.
I wondered if there would be any situation in which I might have to make my disguise work while naked. If I went back to school, some places have sixth graders change clothes for physical education. I'd have to figure a way around that problem if it came up.
The water didn't take long to get hot. I pulled a clear plastic shower cap down over my hair and stepped into the stall. I took a lot of care to get clean everywhere, even the bottom of my feet. Getting dirty isn't bad but girls don't like to stay dirty, I knew that. Well, neither did I, but I made an extra effort this time.
It took two of the hard, stiff, motel towels to get dry with. I didn't have to dry my hair though, since the shower cap had kept it dry. I pulled the cap off and just fluffed it out a bit.
I pulled the Ariel panties on and tucked my boy parts backwards. If the panties were tight enough, maybe they would stay that way. I looked in the mirror again. No one would know me as a boy now, not just from how I looked. I blushed a bit, then pulled mom's old t-shirt over my head. The neck and shoulders were a bit too wide and the bottom reached almost halfway down from my waist to my knees. I checked in the mirror again; okay, I looked kind of cute and I blushed again.
Mom knocked on the door. "All done?" she asked.
I opened the door and she grinned at me. "You're right, it's almost long enough for a dress for you." She suddenly bent to pull me into a hug, carefully keeping her face away from mine because she still had a cold. "I hope we can keep having fun with this," she said.
"So far," I said, hugging her back.
Mom got busy getting the hair dye ready, telling me as she worked just what she was doing and explaining that hair dyes are powerful chemicals and have to be treated just as carefully as you would treat a lit stove or a strange animal. We both wore plastic gloves that came in the packages and we wrapped brown towels, our own, around out necks. Mom did the snipping of tubes with little manicure scissors but she let me mix my own dye before she applied it, squeezing little bits into my hair and then thoroughly wetting the locks before moving to the next combed together little clump. It smelled terrible, like someone burning a bottle of cheap perfume.
After she had my hair thoroughly wet with the dye, she let me help her with her own, which was way more complicated since she wanted to dye most of it black with undyed areas and red-dyed areas. I helped her comb it and decide where the streaks would go. She would end up with most of her hair black, red bangs and a single lock of blonde from the top of her head down and in front of her left ear.
By the time we finished putting Mom's dye in, it was time to rinse mine out. We did this over the sink in the bathroom, using the long hose from the shower. The dye made a shampoo when water was added and after rinsing it out, we used another tube of neutralizer/conditioner that left my hair very soft. And red. Not super red-red, it actually looked sort of red-brown while it was wet.
Mom got out some scissors and trimmed my hair a bit, shaping it some. Then I took the hair dryer to use while she finished up with her own hair. Using more than one color of dye on it took some careful work, I thought -- glad we hadn't tried that with me.
I combed and brushed my hair when I finished drying it and it fell very neatly into a new style -- actually shorter, but softer and fuller in back with bangs in front. A little red-haired girl looked back at me over the dresser mirror. I didn't look at all like Andrew Kelley.
While we'd been running water ourselves, we hadn't noticed the rain begin outside. After Mom finished rinsing her hair and conditioning it, the sound seemed louder, beating on the air conditioner and the small, high-up windows of the motel room. The air felt thick, too, not like the earlier heat outside.
Mom sat at the vanity using two hand mirrors while she trimmed and blow-dried her hair. She had on one of Dad's old t-shirts that looked as much like a dress on her as one of hers did on me. "It's not even seven yet, kiddo. You want to get dressed again and see if any stores are open?"
"It's raining outside," I said.
She stopped working to listen a moment. "Oh, yeah, huh? I guess it is. Well, maybe it won't last too long and we can go get some dinner later. Is it cold in here to you?"
"Kind of," I said.
"Turn off the air conditioner," she suggested. "At least for awhile."
I climbed on a chair to reach the control panel on the top of the window unit, even Mom had had to do that. I figured out which button to push and the air conditioner stopped blowing cold damp air on my belly.
That's when we heard the sirens outside.
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